Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Dune (1984)

Directed by David Lynch.

1984. Rated R, 137 minutes.

Cast: Kyle McLachlan, Francesca Annis, Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Virginia Madsen, Linda Hunt, Patrick Stewart, Jurgen Prochnow, Sean Young, Sting. 

    Every now and again, us movie buffs watch movies we haven't seen since we were kids. If it's something we loved, we want to know if it's holds up. If we didn't like it, we want to give it another chance. Maybe we'll like it now that we've matured. I hated Dune. It was like watching someone else watch paint dry. But I've had a lot of time to mature. I first watched it way back when - a little while after it came out on VHS. If I remember correctly, that was actually 1985. Movies took a while to get to home video back then. All these years later, the only thing I remember is sand. 

    How would I like it with these more seasoned eyes? After all, a few of my favorite movies are slow burns. Plus, I had a little extra incentive to watch. One of the podcasts I listen to every week, The Home Video Hustle, is doing this movie for their next episode. What better time than now to give it another chance?


    It still sucks. 

    Actually, it's worse than that. 

    It's one of the worse made big budget movies I've ever suffered through.

    Even though I'm no David Lynch fan, it pains me to type this. His work generally isn't for me, but I respect his craft. This feels like the work of a person with no craft whatsoever. Whenever possible, art should show, not tell. This film does the opposite of that for almost every single second of its excruciating 137 minutes.

    The plot is some mumbo jumbo about a war in the year 10191. The Empire, er, The Guild runs things, and they're hell-bent on destroying the jedi, I mean, House Arteides. I think. And everyone on both sides is trying to control The Force, oops, melange. What the hell is melange? It's a magic spice (read: drug) that enables someone to fold space and time, or something. I don't give a damn about any of this because the movie never makes me. It just recites the novel to me. I think. I never read it, but it sure as hell sounds like it. 

    And. It. Never. Stops.

    You know what's worse? On top of all that narration, we get an equally endless barrage of inner monologues explaining how characters feel. You know how, in a normal movie, one person will say something, and when they cut to someone else for the reaction they don't say anything, but you can tell how they feel? The reaction in this movie is a blank stare and that person, in voice-over, whispering whatever they're feeling or thinking. They'll literally say things like, "I'm hurt," or "I'm surprised." 

    Speaking of whispering.

    For almost everyone in the film, there are only two voice levels in this movie: whisper, and barely above a whisper. The latter is worse. At least with whispering you have to lean in a bit to hear and understand what's being said. With the barely above stuff, you just zone out because it's all delivered in as monotone a voice as possible, completely lacking any emotion or emphasis. There are a few times when people yell. Actually, one guy gets to do a lot of it: Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

    This guy. Sigh.

    He's this movie's version of Jabba the Hut, except somehow, he's much more disgusting. The constantly draining boils on his face are bad enough, especially with all the close-ups he gets, but he's also ill-mannered and lecherous. His two big acts are hocking a loogie onto a woman's face as slowly as possible, and eye-banging Sting's character and making lewd remarks whenever he shows up. Back in 1984, when the movie was released, the Baron being gay (or at least gay presenting) was likely supposed to add to his villainy. In 2021, it doesn't, by itself, especially since its heavily implied the two are together. Whether or not it's truly consensual is debatable. What's not up for debate is that this is wholly inappropriate because Sting's character is, according to Wikipedia, his nephew. Ewww. 

    At least he's an adult.

    The fact that Wikipedia taught me this is indicative of one of the biggest problems with Dune. I shouldn't be unclear about any part of a movie with this much exposition. However, it just drones on so endlessly I can't help but zone out for chunks of movie. I don't mean falling asleep. I mean looking right at the screen, but unable to keep myself from thinking about a trillion other things because what you're watching absolutely fails to grab me. When I finally snap back into it some detail or another has passed me by. It doesn't help that so much of it reminds me of Star Wars, except developments seem to come out of nowhere. Hell, even other movies just pop in. One moment, our hero is about to be murdered, the next he's playing jedi mind tricks, then Tremors starts. Sort of. Our hero trains the townspeople to ride the worms. 


    This is going on way too long, just like this damn movie. Suffice it to say there is almost no way David Lynch could have made a more boring film. Or one that's more inept. Or more get the picture.


  1. It was on TV recently as I would re-watch every now and then and yeah... it still sucks. And this is coming from someone who loves David Lynch but this is his worst film and he is willing to admit that it sucked ass. It was a film that had an extremely troubled production dating back to the early 70s when a bunch of people tried to adapt it and develop it for film.

    Watch Jodorowsky's Dune as his version of what he wanted to make was fucking nuts but it definitely captured the essence of the book as the man who wrote it actually liked what Alejandro Jodorowsky was going for. Yet, his version was going to be fuckin' long like 15-16 hours but it made sense considering how daunting the book was which is why we're getting a 2-part film from Denis Villeneuve.

    Lynch was overwhelmed in what he was making as it should be noted that he had made 2 feature films prior to this and was even considered to helm Return of the Jedi. Instead, he chose this film because of producer Dino de Laurentiis and well... shit happens. I would suggest watching Jodorowsky's Dune just to see how insane that story is and how insane Jodorowsky's vision was going to happen from his casting choices, visual ideas, and the choice of music he was to make. Fucking Orson Welles was going to play Baron Harrkonen and he wasn't just going to do the film for money. Jodorowsky was going to hire this chef at a French restaurant to cook exclusively for Welles and Welles said yes.

    If you had seen the trailer for Villeneuve's version of Dune, you'll understand why Pink Floyd's "Eclipse" is used for the trailer.

  2. Man, I'm just here for the spice. Gimme the spice.

    Yeah, this film is truly ghastly, there's little redeeming it and even hate-watching it is a chore. Last time I watched this I swore I never would again.

  3. Well I knew it wasn't just me but I'm glad that my memory of this train wreck isn't wrong!

    I had zero interest in seeing the film when it came out but was induced by the group of friends I was with into giving it a shot. "Look Kyle is in it!" they said. We had a mutual friend who knew him so there was the attraction of seeing someone you were aware of seemingly making the big time. "Hey you love Linda Hunt! Remember how great she was in The Year of Living Dangerously" somebody else offered. Then there was the rest of the cast which was a good one, Richard Jordan, Kenneth McMillan (a wonderful actor stuck in an absolutely dreadful role), a lot of other performers I liked, etc. I deluded myself that I might be enough to make it an okay picture. That got me through the opening credits and then the actual film began and I knew I was doomed. It wasn't even a movie going experience but an endurance test! Had I not been bored out of my skull by the end I would have felt some vindication that everyone else in the group loathed it too.

  4. Dune is a strong candidate for the list of worst-ever big-budget disasters. I watched it again recently and it just reeks. I actually wondered if it was intended as a joke, to intentionally out-do Plan 9 From Outer Space for sheer ineptitude.

  5. Dune is so tragically terrible that I kind of love it. I should hate it, because the source material is my favorite book, hands down.

    In the video game world, this movie does have some surprising influence. Westwood Studios acquired the license for Dune and created a game from it (Dune) and then a real-time military sim (Dune II), which was one of the first of that style--the "build a base and mine resources" game. Both games used this movie for visual style.

    As it happens, I wrote the hintbooks for Dune 2000 (Dune II with updated graphics) and Emperor: Battle for Dune. So, as terrible as this movie is, I do have a soft spot for it.